May 2, 2013 by Lyn
Sunday, April 7, 2004
“Porter, I’d like to talk to Belfreja for a while, if I may?”
Porter and Bel shared a glance. Bel desperately wanted to say no. It was Sunday, she had Porter at home with her, she didn’t have anything going on, the Below-Stairs students were leaving her alone. She wanted to sit and watch old noir films with Porter.
But Professor VanderLinden was her mother.
She nodded slowly. Porter nodded just as slowly. “Sure, Professor. Don’t keep her out too late, okay? It’s date night.”
Professor VanderLinden bowed, so serious-faced that Bel knew he was making fun of them. “I would not dream of keeping my daughter from her date night. It shouldn’t be more than half an hour.”
“And obviously no sex stuff.” Porter looked really uncomfortable, but equally really firm.
This time, the professor grimaced. “I would never press my suit where it wasn’t wanted, Porter.”
“It’s still good to say. I’m supposed to take care of her, sir.”
Before this could get any stranger, Bel stepped forward and took her mother’s arm. “Let’s go talk, professor. Out in the orchard, perhaps?”
“You are your father’s daughter. How about the park?” The face the professor made was funny – if he was a five-year-old and not a grown Adult.
“I would not mind the park.” Bel tended to forget that about her mother. She pitched her voice like she did when talking to children in the créche. “We can go sit on the swinging bench.”
“Thank you, Belfreja.”
“You’re welcome, Professor VanderLinden… Mother.”
They walked in silence, neither of them comfortable, until they’d reached the Village’s small park. Bel sat down on the swinging park bench, hung between two giant shade trees, and gestured for her mother to sit down next to her. “What brought this visit on?” Gentle. Be gentle. The professor wasn’t all that good with people not liking him.
“I need you.”
That was not quite expected. “I’m sorry?”
“I need your help, Belfreja.”
“I don’t understand, Professor.”
VanderLinden winced. “Bel…”
“Are you asking for my help as my mother?”
“I’m asking for your help as a member of the Administration here.”
“Then it’s ‘Professor.’“
“Why do you need to be so distant?”
“Because I am not Indigo, or Ty, or any of your other children, mother. I am not like them.”
“I’ve noticed.” His lips twisted in an unhappy grimace. “The rest of my kids at least like me.”
“I don’t dislike you. You’re a very good Lit Professor.”
“But you’re not…” He gestured with both hands, entirely incoherently. Bel had a good idea what he meant.
“I’m not here for the sex and the good time. You don’t understand that. You think I’m a failure of your mothering. And that’s really the problem. And, Professor, that’s not why you called me here, and it’s date night.” She was getting angry. She didn’t want to get angry with her mother. She took a deep breath. “The Administration needs me. How can I help you?”
The professor sighed. “All right, Bel. I do hope you’ll let me get to know you at some point – but now is, I suppose, not the appropriate time.” He had a pinched look between his eyes, like this hurt. Bel resolved – again, she never could quite bring herself to follow through – to talk to the rest of VanderLinden’s children and compare notes.
Not today. “How can I help Addergoole?” she repeated.
“I need your eyes. I’ve asked my Students, before, but my Students… are not always the most scholarly or attentive lot.”
Bel had noticed. She politely said nothing at all.
“The students have gotten very good at hiding how bad things can get from the staff. But, from things I’ve overheard, from the few pointed comments people have said to me – some of which I have, much to my chagrin, missed until far too late…”
He did go on. Was he nervous? He was one giant parenthetical comment, and Bel was losing track of the original concept of the sentence.
“…I can tell that there are things going on that students have picked up on.”
“‘Things?’“ Bel thought she knew what he was talking about. She, however, wanted the professor to be clear, both for his own sake and for her understanding.
“Abuse. I don’t think things are getting as bad as they used to – and if I’m wrong, I want to know right away – but ‘as bad as they used to’ is a really low bar to set – and I still want to know what’s going on now. Because any level of ‘bad’ is a bad thing.”
Bel took a moment to piece that all together into a single cohesive unit. So the professor was worried that he was missing “bad things,” and, although he didn’t think they were as bad as they had been in the past, he wasn’t naive enough to think that “not horrible” was the same as “good.”
She thought it sad that she could think of her mother, a man more than twenty times older than she was, as naive. She thought it sadder that she was probably accurate.
“Say something.” The professor was squirming. The Daeva who could remember when the continent had been named was squirming, waiting for his seventeen-year-old daughter to say something. If it hadn’t been sad, Bel probably would have laughed.
“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to put it all together.” She held her hands out, palms-up, half a shrug and half a gesture inviting the professor to relax. “So you want me to keep an eye out for bad situations, Keepings, I assume?”
And the professor’s shoulders dropped and he sighed in relief. Good, she was on the right track. “Yes. Please.”
“Well, like I said. My Students are not the most observant.”
“Or they’re having their own fun and aren’t going to report on anyone else, for fear that it will turn into a cycle of finger-pushing. Aren’t Thessaly and Lucian your Students? Agravain?”
“I talked to Agra.”
“I noticed Akaterina wasn’t wearing a collar anymore.”
“That wasn’t really what I’d been trying for, but I suppose it’s a positive.”
“Why not?” She hadn’t planned on quizzing the professor, but since he’d brought it up… “Why not aim for freeing her?”
“It’s still our goal that every Student understand what a good Keeping can be like by the time they graduate.” He leaned forward, his shoulders shifting, his hands on the table. “It’s an integral part of our society, Bel, and understanding it from the inside goes a long way towards understanding us and Ellehemaei as a whole.”
Bel frowned. She couldn’t debate that logic, as much as she wanted to. Being Kept by Porter was certainly educational, in ways she hadn’t imagined when she came to school. “But what about the bad Keepings, then? What about Thessaly and Lucian?”
The professor looked up at Bel, his eyes bright. “Thessaly and Lucian.” He sighed, a long sound that should have sounded melodramatic and managed to only sound sad. “They had a rather bad first year here. Not Kept, but I’m not certain even a bad Keeping would have been worse than the messes they ended up getting into. After that, I made them go to Dr. Mendosa regularly for several months.” He shook his head, blonde curls bouncing. “They are, according to the Doctor – and I tell you this in strictest confidence – in no way broken. They’re not crazy, they’re not damaged.”
Bel pursed her lips. This was the sort of confidence the professor reasonably shouldn’t be telling her, but her mother might be able to get away with. “They’re just really unpleasant people, who are self-reinforcing that unpleasantness?”
“Exactly. When things started getting unpleasant – really unpleasant – with Reese, I did step in, Bel… although I know few people will believe this. I stopped them.” He looked away, as if remembering something hard.
“You stopped them? That time, but not this time?”
“I stopped them. Reese was removed from their custody and given to Efrosin. I took care of the negotiations and the price.” His voice was tight, and he was looking far off into the distance. “I thought they’d learned their lesson. When you look at Lee, he looks happy – content, a little jittery. Even beneath the surface, most of his emotions are normal, teenaged emotions. But I don’t read those much.”
“Why not?” Bel found herself frowning again. “Why not monitor first year students?”
Now, the professor looked at her. “So I’m clear, you’re asking why I do not constantly read the emotions of students when they’re in their first year at Addergoole?”
There was something strange about the Professor’s voice, something that made Bel feel as if she was far younger than she was, or at least younger than she normally felt. The professor sounded, for the first time Bel had really noticed, old. Adult.
Bel tried to answer anyway. “Well, then you’d know if they were miserable, wouldn’t you?”
Professor VanderLinden pursed his lips. “I could, of course. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. It wouldn’t be that much more effort, then, to change students’ emotions. To make sure that those who were feeling violent and petty didn’t feel violent and petty anymore. To make the ones who felt unhappy less unhappy.”
His voice darkened. “Changing sexuality isn’t that much harder. I am a succubus, after all. Gay students are inconvenient to the plan, as are those who aren’t interested in sex. Hyper-sexual students are more likely to give us more than the required two children, after all.”
Bel found herself leaning backwards, afraid to speak. Her mother leaned forward, his eyes bright and blazing. “I could change your feelings about me.”
Bel regathered herself, with effort. “Reading is not the same as changing.”
“No? If I read you, finding every twitch and swish of your emotion, and change my behavior until I get the reaction I want, which is that? If I delve into your innermost feelings… I could, Belfreja. But if I do it to one child wearing a collar, I will have to do it to all of them. I will have to do it to you as well as Lee. To Timora and Garfunkel as well as to Ahouva and Akaterina.”
Bel’s answer was out of her mouth before she stopped to examine it. “I’m fine. Timora’s fine.”
She thought that, for a moment, the professor looked sad, perhaps even worried. But this solemn-faced man, even as wrinkle-free and sunny blonde as he always was, looked decades older than the professor she was used to, and he was much harder to read.
Or perhaps, she considered, he was merely not pretending to be easy to read right now.
“I can’t tell you the number of students who have told me that, Bel. Told me that and meant it. Thought studiously of purple zebras all through Reid’s class, to avoid casual reading.”
“So he does read minds.”
“He does. But, again, would you want him invading all of your thoughts?”
“No. No! But, I mean…” She found herself frowning. “How do you do that?”
“Bring another way of looking at things to you? Practice, I suppose.”
“I mean, change my mind.”
“You’re changing your mind, Bel. All I’m doing is suggesting a few options to change to.”
“You swear you’re not…” Bel gestured with both hands. “As you’ve said. It would be easy to change my mind.”
“I am a Daeva. To some degree, I’m always -” The professor imitated Bel’s gesture. “But I’m not Working you. I’m not actively trying to change anything about you. I find that rather repugnant.”
“Hunh.” Bel looked down at her hands. “I don’t know what to think about that.” The admission didn’t gall as much as she’d thought it would. “It seems as if you ought to be able to find a way.”
“It does, I admit. But some of this is a matter of learning for all of you: to learn about the world and the Law in a… well, it was supposed to be a safe environment.” The professor frowned. “We’re working on making it a safer environment.”
“What about the mind control?” The idea occurred to Bel, and she let it pop out of her mouth without filtering it or wondering how it fit into the conversation.
The Professor’s expression shifted, into something rather like approximated innocence. “What about it?”
“Are you going to say that isn’t invading my mind against my wishes?”
“It’s a question of imminent danger.” And now he was looking scholarly.. “Tell me, how do you think you would have reacted to growing your horns a year ago?”
Bel took a breath. She thought about the way the horns had hurt, coming in. The way it had changed everything about her. The way everything else had shifted a little, too. “Not well. Not easily.”
“How do you think you would have reacted to not being human, a year ago?”
“Complete and utter disbelief.” That one was easy.
“And how much energy do you think it would have taken the staff to put your psyche back together after your break from reality? The wards aren’t a cage, Bel, and they aren’t there to fill you with school pride or a scholarly attitude towards your homework. They’re a safety net.”
“A safety net.” Bel tasted the idea, wondering how she liked it. “So they’re just there… in case of emotional emergency.”
“Exactly. For instance, the First Cohort had a devoutly Christian student. He had more than a little trouble adjusting to the idea that he could be descended from demons – and he was Luke’s grandson, so you can see how that could have gone.”
“But what about people like Shang, then?”
“Well, Shang may be working very hard to remain in denial about his status, but he is doing so with a remarkable level of calm. I was more worried about Timora, but she seems to be handling her Change quite well.”
“She’s doing pretty well.” Bel could confirm that, at least. “And getting control of it, too.”
“I know one of her grandparents. He had trouble, at first, with that Change, as well. And he had no mind control, no wards, no system of support, and no Arundel. He nearly killed himself.” The Professor was uncharacteristically somber, but Bel supposed the subject matter merited it. “I found him, and I helped him put himself back together. But I wouldn’t wish that on any of you.”
“So the wards just stave off suicidal episodes, and the worst of the – the shock, I suppose?” She frowned. “Because we mostly come in ignorant of our history.”
“Exactly. We can’t – won’t – take that away from you, but we can lighten it a little bit. The way that we make sure magic classes, too, can be fun. And, while not all the teachers agree, the way I try to make my Literature class a little risqué.”
Bel smiled. “I thought that was just you.”
“Well, that too. But, as the woman says-” The professor’s voice took on a feminine tone, and a very British one at that.“In ev’ry job that must be done There is an element of fun You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.”
Bel blinked. Was her mother… singing?
She opened her mouth to ask What is going on, Professor? Instead, she found herself singing along:“And ev’ry task you undertake Becomes a piece of cake A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see that”
And together they started singing:“A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down The medicine go down-wown The medicine go down Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down In a most delightful way.” “So you’re telling me, my mum,”
Bel tried,“That the mind control you’ve brung, Is there to help the Ellehemaei drug Slip like silk right down our throats While she blithely take our notes It’s just the thing to move is right alon-on-g?”
She shut her mouth tightly, only to find herself humming while her mother did the same.
They hummed the chorus through, both of them looking rather distressed. But she’d challenged the professor, and he had to retort.“We’re just trying to protect’cha, from the worries of the world and the difficulties of the Change – it’s cruel – What the magic can invoke In a reasonable soul, and hence (and hence),“
and here Bel found herself singing along again,“We’ve found (you’ve found) That the thing to do is mind con-tro-o-ol.”
They shut their mouths tightly again.
“This…” the professor tried, and managed in only a little bit of a sing-song, “is quite unusual.”
A child skipped by, her voice sweet as she gathered flowers in a basket.“I’ll grow up to be strong and tough Because my mommy loves me quite enough And my daddy, well, my dad, I guess he triiiies…”
Bel shared a glance with her mother. “Something…” She coughed, found a proper note, and sang it, not really understanding why.“Something strange is going on here, Something stranger than the norm here, And I must confess I quite don’t like it, Mom…” “I hear quite what you’re saying, and agree, if cannot stay on… Hey wait, did you just finally call me ‘Mom?'”
“No.” Bel closed her lips. She had a pad of paper in her purse; she pulled it out and scribbled a note. What do you think is going on?
I don’t know, but I think we need to speak to – or sing to – Regine. This reeks of magic. The professor stood up, bowed, and offered Belfreja his hand.
Bel took it. She found she was humming under her breath, and decided to just give in and sing.“You know why it is, don’t you (don’t you), That I don’t call you mom, don’t you (don’t you)?” “Because you don’t feel it’s right, don’t you (you don’t) When we’re strangers on sight, don’t you? (Strangers)”
The professor was frowning.“Though I’ve done what I can, all I can (I can) To show you I care, that I care (I do)-“ “The mother’s the one, the one (my mom) Who’s there for your firsts, and lasts (My mom)…”
Bel shut her mouth again. She didn’t know why she’d started explaining herself. She’d tried before, and it had never made things any better.
The professor was nodding. He patted Bel’s back, gently, and then, as if to prove a point, her horns.
Bel sighed. “I know.” She was still singing, but she didn’t care anymore. “I know, know, know, know, know. Your horns, his horns, I know, know, know. Your genes, his genes, and then there’s me, me, me. And it doesn’t change how I feel.” She grimaced.
The professor sighed. “And I’m sorry about that.” He was clearly making the effort to speak and not sing. “But, when this crisis is over-”
“-there’s always a crisis-”
“When this crisis is over, will you give me a chance to be, if not your mother, then maybe your auntie?”
“Or uncle-y.” Bel nodded. “Shall we deal with the musical matter, my mother?”
“Certainly, daughter dearest.” Professor VanderLinden pursed his lips, stood, and offered Bel his arm.
“If that’s the way that we’re going to dance the dance…”
“I quite insist.”
“If you insist.” It felt like the interlude in a musical; it felt like someone else was writing their lines. Bel was becoming increasingly distressed by it.
She took the professor’s arm, and allowed him to lead her, with a few extemporaneous dance moves, off to Regine’s office.
Regine was humming. Humming and, as she moved from screen to screen in her office, doing a little dance step. A waltz, Bel thought, and the three-beat cadence of her humming matched that. Bum-bum-bum-BUM-bum-bum, and now Bel was humming as well, and Professor VanderLinden was dancing slowly in place.
“There’s a problem.” He began easily enough in a speaking voice.
“There’s a problem.” Bel sang along, a chorus echoing him.
“I have quite noticed.” Regine was managing to keep her voice firm. “Unless you had begun a choral club without asking me, Michael.”
Belfreja had never heard anyone call her mother Michael before.
“No. No, I haven’t. Regine, is this what I think it is?”
“It very likely could be. You brought Belfreja along why…?”
“Because I was meeting with her when the problem reared its ugly head.” They were both getting a little sing-song, more as they were clearly growing irritated with each other, but they were at least not rhyming. Bel, who found herself humming counterpoint, envied them their age and strength.
“Ah. Well, then. I do not believe we need her assistance in dealing with our problem.”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Do you truly wish to expose her to the danger?” The Director raised one perfect eyebrow in clear condemnation.
“The problem in question is hardly dangerous.” Professor VanderLinden saw her condemnation and raised her disbelief.
Regine clucked. “She is your daughter and not mine.” Regine countered with cool lack of caring.
“You are being absurd, Regine.” And the professor folded, bidding laughter.
(“Absurd.”) Bel tried to keep her musical accompaniment quiet and unobtrusive; both adults ignored her either way.
“I do not understand why you are allowing sentiment to get in the way of your common sense.”
“Because if I did not have sentiment, Regine, I would be you or Luca, and then where would we be?” Bel found her mother angry a very interesting sight, if a little distressing.
“Luca certainly has sentiment. Far too much of it; it clouds his sense as it does yours.” Regine frowned at her screens. “We need to deal with this situation, Michael. They are dancing. They are dancing in the halls. And soon all the students will be aware that there is yet another situation that we failed to contain. And how do you think they will feel about that?”
“Considering the mild state of this situation, I imagine most of them will be pleased that it is not a dragon, nor a monster from the depths. I imagine most of them will be glad to know that it cannot kill them.”
“Assuming it cannot kill them. Do you know your fairy tales, Linden-Blossom?”
“I have heard my share of fairy tales. Like you, I have also been my share of those tales.”
“And do you wish to be De røde sko?”
(“De røde sko.”) Bel sang it softly, not knowing at all what she was singing. She knew, however, that Professor VanderLinden had frozen.
“De røde sko. No, no, I do not wish to live our The Red Shoes. Do you truly think that she would? Do you think she’d go that far?”
(“Go that far…”) How far? (“How far? De røde sko?”) Bel slapped her hands over her mouth, uncertain if that would actually stop the sounds coming out of her mouth.
“I do not know. But this, this is hardly in keeping with the terms of our agreement, is it?” Regine’s feet were moving again, dancing back and forth as if she could no longer entirely fight the enchantment.
The professor pursed his lips. “No. No. I wonder who helped her get around that.”
“Well, if there is one who would be able to get around the words of the Law and an agreement -”
“Don’t. Just don’t, Regine. We made that bed and we will have to lie in it, all of us.”
Belfreja was very glad for her lack of visual imagination. (“All of us”) What were they talking about?
“I hardly think you’re in a position to tell me what to say or to not say, Michael.”
“I’d say I have the best position of all. Of any of us, Regine, who else is going to stop you when you forget yourself?”
Bel was surprised enough that she shut her mouth and forced the song back down her own throat. It felt like swallowing vomit.
Regine looked less surprised than abashed. “You are right, of course, sa’Linden Blossom. However, we still have a musical issue to deal with.”
“That we do.” Regine took an obvious breath, and then another. She spoke a few Words; a mind Working, with herself as the target, and then another, with Professor VanderLinden and Bel as the targets. Bel felt no different when it was through, and was not inclined to argue with the Director of the school, anyway. “Let us, then, deal.”
She began humming, her feet moving again in something akin to a jig. “I am the very model of a modern…”
Bel found the song overtaking her and, with her mother and Regine, danced off the stage.
Sunday, April 7, 2004
Jovanna was watching the door again.
Even now, even as Arna tried to be “better,” tried to be a more attached Keeper, she found herself watching the door quite a bit. Sometimes, like now, when it became too much, she remembered that she had no orders keeping her in the room, that her Keeper had never said be here when I return. Indeed, Arna gave her so few orders, Jo was not always certain why she bothered continuing to Keep her“Come lay your body beside me. To dream to sleep with the lamb…”
She found herself singing softly, staring at the door. She should leave. She should go out there, go out there and do something. If she was going to spend her entire life waiting, she might as well have fun doing it.
She opened the door, and found herself still singing.“To the question your eyes seem to send Am I your passion your promise your end.”
She was surprised to find she had a good voice. She had not sung out loud, not really, since… well, not since before Addergoole, at least.
She turned the corner and found Arna standing there. Found Arna, and could not stop herself.
“I say I amYes I am Your passion your promise your end Yes I am.”
Her voice echoed in the hall, and Arna stepped back, perhaps, Jo thought, a little taken aback. Angry? She immediately felt bad, but the bad only made her feel more angry.“Barring divine intervention There is nothing between you and I And if I carelessly forgot to mention Your body your power can sanctify.”
Her voice ripped through the hall, ripped through her heart. And Arna took a step back. One step, and another step, and another. “Jo…” She swallowed hard. “Jovanna.” It was a musical note, a plea, a song. And then she replied as Jo had.“Come feed your hunger your thirst Lay it down the beast will die You can question my heart once again Am I your passion your promise your end I say I am Yes I am Your passion your promise your end Yes I am.”
Jo felt as if her heart was breaking, breaking and being reforged at the same time. “Yeah?” She whispered it, managing a word without music. “Yeah? You are?”
Arna touched her cheek, so very gently. “Yeah, lover. Yeah.”
Then her voice rose up in song again.“I say I am. Yes I am. Your passion, your promise your end. Yes I am.”
“That is quite enough of this foolishness.” Regine’s voice cut across the hallway, and the music in Jo’s heart cut out as if someone had pulled her plug.
Art by the Inventrix
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?
Apologies! I couldn’t get the site to load last night, and thus this is late 🙁